Since January 2017, 31,377 asylum seekers have illegally crossed the U.S. border into Canada. Although these individuals have all broken the law, they will not be prosecuted.
The Government of Canada website states, “no enforcement actions are taken against people seeking asylum as per section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.” In most cases, asylum seekers are permitted to stay in Canada until their claim is heard.
The message to refugees around the world is loud and clear: If you illegally cross the border into Canada, you won’t be charged with a crime, you won’t deported if you are eligible to make a refugee claim, and the government will take care of your financial needs. These government policies incentivize people to illegally cross the border and request asylum.
In January 2017, Justin Trudeau encouraged refugees to come to Canada when he tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you…” Trudeau’s tweet (which went viral) undoubtedly increased the number of illegal border crossings.
Most asylum seekers from the United States would be foolish to follow the legal process to make a refugee claim in Canada. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, persons requesting asylum “must make a claim in the first country they arrive in… unless they qualify for an exception.” As CBC News has reported, “most people who make an asylum claim at the border are turned back to the United States.”
The Safe Third Country Agreement is only in effect in places where it is legal to enter Canada (i.e., ports of entry, and by train or at airports). Knowing this, asylum seekers make an illegal border crossing instead.
This giant loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement is what has ultimately caused the Canadian border crisis. The loophole needs to be closed.
The Conservative Party has proposed that the entire Canada–U.S. border be designated as an official port of entry. If this change were made, then most asylum seekers from the United States would be sent back.
If the U.S. refuses to take them because their asylum claim was rejected, then they could be deported. When an asylum claim is rejected, it has been determined that it is safe for the individual to return to their home country. They can also be deported if they are considered a security threat.
Another solution is to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement and make illegal border crossers ineligible to apply for asylum in both countries.
The easiest solution would be for Parliament to simply pass legislation to close the loophole.
Canada does have a legal obligation to protect refugees. According to Article 33 of the 1951 Convention, “a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom.”
However, the Convention does not apply to asylum seekers who arrive from the United States because the Government of Canada has declared the U.S. “a safe third country.” Sending an illegal border crosser back to the United States does not put their life in any danger.
The Trudeau government can end the Canadian border crisis. By not allowing anyone who illegally crosses the border from the United States to make an asylum claim, the number of illegal border crossings will drop significantly. It is simple and easy to fix. All it takes is the political will to do it.